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Friday, April 18, 2014

CLASSIC TRIP: England, Ireland, Belgium 2005 - Part 2

Blarney Castle

Previously, terrorists had bombed London and transportation was in a chaotic state..

On to Ireland. From our hotel, it’s a quick bus ride to Fullham-Broaday Underground station. The District Line takes us two stops to Earl’s Court station where we change to the Picadilly Line to Heathrow.

At the airport, we just change to the Heathrow Express train to get to Terminal 4, home of Aer Lingus. Everything at Heathrow involves a very long walk and this is no exception. On top of that, security barriers placed about 24 inches apart block entrance to the train platform. There is no signage for wheelchairs as to how to proceed.

We find an employee who uses a key to remove a security barrier allowing us to proceed to the train platform. A quick ride and we’re at Terminal 4.

Heathrow is one of the world’s busiest airports. This is made obvious when you enter the check in area and thousands of people are milling about. We find the Aer Lingus check-in counter and proceed through the process. After this, we head to security to go to the departure hall.

One thing I don’t like about Heathrow is that you are not told what gate you will be departing from. You must watch the departure monitors and about a hour before your flight, the gate number will be posted there. Until then, you wait in the departure hall.

At Heathrow, this is really just a very crowded shopping mall with very limited seating. If you want to shop, I guess it’s ok. If you just want to rest until your flight, you’re pretty much out of luck.

As our luck would have it, our flight was delayed. It wasn’t until two hours later that the departure gate was listed and then it was another very long walk to the gate (forty minutes). By the time we arrived, boarding was commencing and the helpers were no where to be found. Of course, this made us last to be boarded and the crew insisted that our son Tim have a window seat (in the back of the plane) which turned out to be just impossible to accomplish due to the very limited room between the seats and his weight (145 lbs.)

A stalemate developed between the crew and us. They wanted us to take another flight that wasn’t so full where the seating could be more properly arranged. We didn’t. This flight was already two hours late and counting. The captain had to come out and give his ok that Tim could have an aisle seat instead.

Once we pushed back and took off, it was about forty minutes to Cork in southern Ireland. Cork, at this point in time, has no jetways (construction is under way so this will change soon). Instead, we had to wait on board until the food service truck arrived. We were deplaned on the food service truck.

This was one of the worst flights, with matching service, that I’ve ever encountered. In addition to the previous, everything on board…from peanuts and soda to wine and beer…has to be purchased at high prices. Luckily, it’s a short flight.

Everybody has a bad day, and I’m hoping that’s the case this time, but this whole experience will be repeated almost exactly in three more days.

Finally, off of the plane. The airport personnel, including customs and immigration, are very competent and friendly. We quickly clear the passport control (Ireland uses a cool green ink for their stamp) and pick up our rental car from Hertz. It’s a nice SEAT wagon with room in the back for the chair, CD, radio, and A/C. It has a manual transmission which means that I will be doing all the driving (auto costs an extra $100)

For this portion of our trip, we’ll be staying in Limerick, about an hour’s drive north of Cork. More on that later.

After leaving the airport and finding our route with only one minor misdirection, we head north on the motorway to our first stop, Blarney.

The motorway to Blarney is a modern superhighway but once we exit, we get our first taste of typical Irish roads. Wow! It must be a real adventure to be a passenger while driving on these roads. I wouldn’t know because for a driver used to American roads, it’s just terrifying.
Most of the roads here are very narrow, maybe one to one-and-a-half of a lane wide when compare to U.S. roads. About 90% of these roads have no shoulders, only tall hedges or stone walls block all view around turns. Oh yeah, they are two-way roads that have many large trucks, tourist buses, and farm equipment using them. When arriving in a town, the hedges and walls are replaced by vehicles parked on both sides. Usually, these vehicles are parked half on the sidewalk with the other half in the road. Some towns we encountered also had festivals or flea markets that also took place in these still open roads.

So, for the remainder of this report, we’ll just boil the above paragraph to the above code when encountering the Irish roads: Irish road…AAHHH!

Blarney is our first Irish village (Cork is a large and modern city). It’s a pretty as you’d expect. Once through the town, you drive down a small driveway to the car park for Blarney Castle. The castle is located in a large park, which has a nominal entry fee of 7 Euros. There are not a lot of facilities here for wheelchair users. Consequently, disabled and one care giver (carer) are free so we ended up only paying one admission.

From studying up on the castle’s web site, it seemed that the famous Blarney Stone was up on the second story. Just maybe, I thought, I could man-handle Tim up there so he could kiss it but reality is much different.

Actually, it’s about ten stories to the top of the castle…a long, arduous climb up worn, slippery, small, narrow, circular stone staircases with only a rope dropped down the center to steady yourself. There is no way to get someone who cannot walk up ot the top.

My wife and I took turns going up while the other kept Tim company at the bottom. If you can get to the top, what you’re rewarded with is a grand view of the park and countryside and, of course, the right to kiss the stone.
Darryl Kissing the Blarney Stone

Legend has it that this stone was the pillow that Jacob layed his head on when he had his dream of the ladder going to heaven. It is supposed to impart magical powers upon those who kiss it. Specifically, you’re granted the gift of eloquence, or the “gift of gab.”

You cannot just go up and kiss it. You must do it properly. This involves laying on your back, staring up to the sky, and bending your head back to kiss it upside down. There is about a one foot gap (protected by iron bars) to stretch across the void to the ground far below. A gentleman there will steady you. It is good form to leave him a Euro or two for a tip. A photographer will snap that instant of the kiss and you can buy a copy on your way out. You can also bring your own camera for free.

Almost as daunting as the climb up is the climb down, against traffic. I really felt for the dad whose son got to afraid to continue and had to carry him down.

We also noticed about this time that it was really warm here. No, not just warm, hot.

Accompanying this was heavy humidity. It really felt like Charleston in August. I have been assured that this is very rare for Ireland and we just happen to hit it during this heat wave.

Gingerly, I drive back toward the motorway to continue to Limerick. Maybe ten miles later, the motorway fades into a two lane road for the rest of the way.

Following the hotel’s directions, we end up on the west side of town driving along the River Shannon into the city. We eventually found our hotel but with difficulty. I think the directions could have basically said the hotel was in the heart of the city next to the bridge and it would have been easier.

We are at another Jury’s Inn. This room is not as big or luxurious as the one in London. The accessible room could only sleep two but, to their credit, the management gave us an adjoining room for no extra charge so it was like having a suite. The only amenity missing from this room as compared to London was air conditioning. I’m told this usually isn’t a problem here but there is that pesky matter of the hot and humid heat wave we’re currently experiencing.

Location is great, right in the middle of the city, across the street from the river. There’s a nice pub, Schooner’s, next to an excellent Italian restaurant right on the river, across from the hotel.

Having Drinks at Schooners

In the summer, the day ends after 10:00pm so sundown drinks at the pub last well into the night. We had dinner, drinks, and came back to bed. At 11:30pm on this Sunday night…right outside our open (due to no A/C) window…road workers commenced jack hammering in the street. Oy, what a racket. They finished around 2:00am. At 4:00am, a group of drunks started singing very loudly on the sidewalk.

With but a few hours of sleep under our belt, we make our way north heading for the Cliffs of Moher along the coast south of Galway. Along the way, we get into a big traffic jam in the town of Ennis. The bad thing about traffic jams here is that there is usually no alternat route. There is one road through town. In it’s defense, it appears that Ennis is building a bypass that will alleviate this in the future.

The reason for the traffic today is because there is a big hurling match going on. What is hurling? Haven’t got a clue, but a bit more on that later.

After we edge through the jam, we make a stop at Knappogue Castle. According to my pre-trip research, this is the most accessible castle I could find in Ireland that allows visitors. We pass through the very pretty village of Quinn, home to some impressive church ruins, and pull into the castle’s grounds just beyond.

It’s a quiet day here, I think only two other groups of visitors are here. We pay the entrance fee and a groundskeeper deploys a ramp so we can get in the front door. Being over 500 years old, access wasn’t included in the original build out so only the first floor is accessible. On this floor, you get to see the main hall with it’s large fireplace, the large banquet room, and a view of the chapel. Upstairs, there is a personal chapel and another ballroom.
Knappogue Castle

It is dark and smoky smelling in the main entry hall. Eerily, my camera won’t work in flash mode and I can’t get a good picture. As soon as I’m out of the castle, it works. Take it back inside, no flash. I have no explanation as to why this is.

The groundskeeper takes us on a little tour of the first floor and then accompanies me up to the top of the castle to show me some of the features up there. There are picture-postcard perfect views from the top of the surrounding Irish countryside with emerald green rolling hills dotted with cows.

After spending an hour or two here, we hop back in our little rental car and continue on arriving at the seaside village of Lahinch.

Due to the unrelenting heat wave, it seems that everybody in Ireland does just what we’d do in America on a hot, humid day…head to the beach. There is jammed traffic with cars parked everywhere restricting the already narrow roads. Gingerly, we make our way through it and continue on the short drive to the Cliffs of Moher. Massive crowds, many tour buses and not a parking spot to be found greet us. We also note the long, unpaved trail up to the top of the cliffs and reluctantly come to the conclusion that this just won’t be possible to see. It takes another five miles until we can find a spot wide enough for us to turn around.

Not wanting to completely waste the trip, lunch is had at the village of Kilconnel, overlooking Liscannor Bay and Lahinch. The food, pasta mainly, is very good.

Remembering the intense traffic in Ennis for the hurling match, I opt to take the coastal route instead. Lazily, we wind around the western Irish coast until we make it to the River Shannon. It’s not long until we reach the ferry crossing at Killimer. A twenty-minute cruise across this beautiful waterway and we alight in Tarbert, just a short drive along the river’s south bank back to Limerick.

Adare proclaims itself the “prettiest village in Ireland.” That’s quite a claim considering the many charms of every Irish village we’ve been to. We have to take a look and it’s only about an hour’s drive from Limerick.

It’s an early start today and we decide we’ll get breakfast when we get there. Just after the massive Adare Manor hotel (looks like an awesome place to stay), we cross the river next to the castle ruins, and – just like that – we’re in the heart of Adare.

It is indeed beautiful with its block of preserved thatch-roofed houses and pretty park with the creek running through it. It seems we’re about half-an-hour early for anything to be open though.

The only place we find for breakfast is a little counter inside the visitor’s center that serves good food but not with the smiles we’ve so far encountered on our visit.

After eating, we walk through the town shopping and snapping pictures. That’s about the gist of it. Once the place opened up, it was pretty much taken over by the tour buses and the hoards they dispensed. We were now two for three with major Irish sites we wanted to see; loved Castle Blarney, disappointed in Cliffs of Moher and Adare.

We continued on to drive through the nearby countryside with a minor goal or reaching Tipperary. It’s not so much we wanted to see the small city of Tipperary, just that on the map it seemed like there was much Irish countryside to go through along the way. Indeed, in this case it was not the destination that mattered but the journey.

This was the best decision of the Irish leg of our trip. As soon as we let go of the recommendations of friends, guidebooks, and travel web sites, Ireland opened up to us as it had so far eluded us.

Village upon beautiful village greeted us as we went along. Castles, ruins of castles, ruins of abbeys, and little Irish rivers greeted us around every turn devoid of other tourists. A stop in a random pub was an invitation to make a new Irish friend. Finally, we’d found the Ireland we’d come to see.
Bruree, Ireland

Not long before we’d reach Tipperary, we crested a hill and had to pull over at the absolutely breathtaking vista that greeted us. Thankfully, the townsfolk here had built a small parking area and picnic tables at this very spot.

Words cannot describe this but I’ll give it a try. Black draft horses with shiny coats grazed on the grassy hillside in front of a sparkling river full of rapids and a tiny little canyon (maybe fifty feet long) full of little waterfalls. On the far bank, small houses painted in many colors faced us. At the east end of this village was the remains of an ancient castle, a turret covered in vines. At the other end was an old stone millhouse, its large water wheel long since retired but resting peacefully on the side of the building. The river makes a lazy, horseshoe turn around the old mill, cascading over the rocks as a local boy dips a line in to see if he can catch a fish.  This is the village of Bruree.

Idyllic Scene at Bruree

I just wanted to stop and stay here the rest of the day. As we were sitting in our little grassy spot, a local stopped by and invited us to the town’s little museum. We didn’t make it there but whiled away the time talking to the local gentleman before moving along.

In Tipperary, a pretty large city by Irish standards, lunch is gathered up at a collection of stands surrounding a parkling lot just off of the main street. Our plan is to head generally back toward the direction of Limerick and find a lonely castle to picnic at. It’s not long before we find it along the side of the road sitting in a small, grassy field nest to a cow pasture.
Our Picnic Spot

This is the Ireland we’ve come to find. Picture postcard villages and ruined castles to lazily snack in front of. Friendly locals and lively pubs. All devoid of tour buses and hordes of people.
Back in Limerick, we visit St. John’s castle, an imposing fortress over the River Shannon. About half of the castle, really more of a fort, is accessible for wheelers but a major obstacle is the large courtyard which is covered in loose gravel. A lift takes you to the museum on the second floor and docents bring inaccessible exhibits out to disabled patrons. In our case, a docent brought out the exhibit on minting coins which is located in the basement of one of the turrets.
The evening is spent again having drinks at schooners while a local band entertains the pub crowd. This was our perfect day in Ireland, and also our last

It's not over yet, come back and have a beer with us as we travel to Belgium for part 3.

Copyright 2009 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 14, 2014

CLASSIC TRIP: England, Ireland, Belgium 2005 - Part 1

Aftermath of Bombing
Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Francis Tyers under CC BY-SA 3.0 license

Just about 9 years ago...on July 6, 2005...the IOC met in Singapore to award the 2012 Olympics to the chosen city. We were in London that day and there were a lot of celebrations...then the next day, the world turned on its head.   Read on to see what happened when we were in London, July 2005...

It was to be a memorable time to be in the city.

Our airline for the LAX to Heathrow portion this time was American Airlines. The service was good and the seats were wider and more comfortable than the last trip we took on Virgin Atlantic. For us, comfort and adequate service beat out Virgin’s amenities which include better service, better food, and vastly better entertainment enroute.

Our hotel for this first leg of the trip was Jury’s Inn in Chelsea…just a couple of miles west of the heart of London. Jury’s Inn is part of the Jurys Doyle chain, an Irish company that has hotels throughout the British Isles. It is in a very quiet area that is being built up on top of the old gas works. It’s a quick bus ride to the shops and pubs of Chelsea and the accessible Fullham-Broadway Underground station which provides quick links to the rest of the city.

The room featured a double bed with a fold out sofabed that would sleep three adults in comfort. Air conditioning, cable TV, radio rounded out the standard amenities. The room was large by European standards (about the size of an average budget U.S. motel room), well laid out, and featured a very large bathroom with a roll-in shower. Our cost was £59 per night (about $80 US)

A bus ride to the Fulham-Broadway tube station. A ride on the district line to Westminster station. A ride on the Jubilee line to the Kilburn station. Finally, another bus ride to Abbey Road.
Londoner’s may be sad that the old Roadmaster double-deckers are being retired, but wheelchair users aren’t. The new replacements…double-decker, articulated, or smaller regular buses…are wonderfully accessible. A ramp deploys from the back door and a space is reserved.

This round-a-bout journey is what it takes to get a wheelchair from our hotel in Chelsea (Jury’s Inn) to the Beatles studio located at 3 Abbey Road, a ways north of Hyde Park.

Our first stop on this trip is to recreate the picture in the crosswalk that graces the cover of the Beatles Abbey Road album. We take notice of the studio in the smallish, neat white building just to the north of the crosswalk and read the grafitti on the wall in front and the road sign across the street.

Mainly a spot to take pictures, there is not a whole lot more to do here so we walk towards Lord’s Cricket Ground nearby. Tours are being given but at this time the sky opens up and a heavy, cold rain begins to fall.

We decide it’s time to take this journey indoors.

I hail a taxi and we head over to Harrod’s.

The famous department store is huge – get a map at the information counter near the northeastern entrance. Five floors of expensive clothes, appliances, furniture and more. The food hall is impressively expansive, drool inducing, and expensive. The seating, along counters, is unfortunately not friendly to the wheelchair user. It is a little telling that the most crowded counter was the Krispy Kreme stall.

The rest of the store’s departments are housed in smaller rooms. They were having a big sale that day. I remember as we passed through the women’s clothing department a rack of blouses that were 50% off. I checked the price of a random blouse. It had indeed been priced at half off. The original price of 800 pounds ($1,416) was now 400 ($708).

Luckily, there is not a charge to go in and look.

It’s Wednesday, July 6th. We’re at Covent Garden passing time until the matinee performance of the Producer’s starts up the street.

A limbo dancer is entertaining the crowds for tips when a group of fighter jets roar low overhead. It is at his precise moment, thousands of miles away in Singapore, that the International Olympic Committee announces that London has been awarded the summer Olympic games for 2012. The jets, streaming red, white, and blue smoke are part of the celebration taking place a few blocks away at Trafalgar Square.

It is a joyous moment.

We go on to see our play. The wheelchair seating is excellent, twelve rows back from the stage. The staff at the theatre is also excellent and one usher is assigned to us to take care of all our needs such as getting to the restroom and even bringing drinks in. The play itself is quite good and funny. Ticket prices, as they always are in London, are a bargain compared to Broadway. Less than $100 for all three tickets.

We have found that for matinees, you really don’t need to plan that far in advance except for the most popular shows, early in their runs. I called upon arrival in London and easily reserved three tickets to this show which I picked up at Will Call. Previous trips I have used e-mail from the states, which turned out not to be really necessary. You may want to call direct a couple of weeks ahead of time if you want to go on a traditionally busy time such as Friday or Saturday night.

After the play, we start hitting pubs and celebrate the culmination of the years long struggle to get the Olympics with London’s locals. We end the evening at the Bar Room Bar on King’s Road having pizza and shooting pool with the regulars.

This is the day we are to go see the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. While getting ready, Tim notes that the BBC is reporting an explosion in the Liverpool Street Underground station. BBC is reporting that it was caused by an eletrical surge.

All cleaned up, we catch a bus to Fulham-Broadway to start our day. Not having had any breakfast and noticing that there is a Starbuck’s in the station, we strong-coffee starved Americans decide to have some coffee and muffins to start our day.

At the counter, the server asks if I want it for here or to take away. Not really thinking about it, I say it’s for here and our coffee comes in ceramic mugs. My wife, not too pleased with this, asks why I didn’t take it to go so we could just take it with us on the train. I don’t really have an answer and we take a few minutes to drink our coffee before leaving.

After we finish, we head over to the station nearby down the hall. The worker there is closing the gate over the front of the station and putting a sign up outside that says “Entire Underground closed due to security alert.”

The crowds gather outside and I keep hearing more talk about the electrical surge. We go out front and try to catch a bus into London but no driver will let us on. Frankly, I’m starting to get a little PO’d at this but calmer heads prevail and we head back to the hotel where maybe we can catch a water taxi.

Since we’re there, we decide to stop at our room and go to the bathroom before continuing on. Tim turns on the TV and there is the bright red banner on the BBC with a large and frightening caption: “TERRORISTS BOMB THE UNDERGROUND”

Much like US crisis reporting, many rumors abound while facts are being gathered. First, it’s an explosion near King’s Cross. Then it’s six explosions throughout London. Soon it’s up to seven. There is a rumor that a bus has just been blown apart. At least two people are “reported” dead with many injured. Now it’s up to four dead.

Within the hour, London’s police chief is on the air saying that everybody needs to just stay where they are…do not travel at all. All Underground and bus service has been halted.
Of course, now we know that four bombs went off that day. Three in the Underground and one in a bus killing 56 and injuring hundreds more.

While it was probably planned to coincide with the G8 summit taking place at the same time, it was sheer coincidence that Rudy Guilani just happened to be eating breakfast about a block away from one of the explosion sites.

For us, most of the day is spent in the hotel bar where a big screen is set up on the BBC and the stranded guests watch the horrible news. Later that evening, local bus service in Chelsea is running again so we’re able to go about a half-mile into town to have a pub dinner.
Trapped on the Underground
Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Adam Stacey under CC BY 2.5 license

Although stuck at the hotel and the surrounding are for the day and having our trip to Greenwich cancelled, we are very thankful that we took a few extra minutes before boarding the train. I would hate to think of trying to evacuate the Underground at non-accessible station or, even worse, through a tunnel.

It was a sad day but the locals put up a good front, were still friendly (although understandably miffed at the perpatrators), and the hotel staff very understanding. Besides the direct victims, those who got the worst of it were the thousands of London workers who had to walk many miles home that night.

The rallying cry throughout the city today is get back to what your’re doing. Don’t let them shut us down. London is open, come and enjoy. This is what you can do to support us.
Back on the Tube at Fulham Broadway

With that in mind, we took to the streets and underground and continued on. Today, we take the tube from Fulham Broadway to Wimbledon. This is actually one station beyond the famous tennis club but the closest accessible station. We are able to catch an accessible bus from the station wich drops us off immediately in front of the All England Lawn Tennis Club.

There is a museum here with many tennis artifacts such as the Wimbledon trophy, shoes, rackets, clothes (all worn and autographed by such stars as Venus Williams and Boris Becker), plus representations of Wimbledon over the years. There is a well-stocked gift shop but the highlight is actually going downstairs to visit Centre Court, home to the Wimbledon tennis tournament finals.
Centre Court, Wimbledon

Wheelchair users are escorted by a security guard and are able to get right up to the edge of the grass. The Royal Box is pointed out. We were there just about a week or so after the tournament ended and noticed the worn spots of grass that were reminders of what had taken place here recently.

Back on the tube, we navigated back to Fulham Broadway where we catch another train to Kew Gardens. It’s an accessible station here but on arrival, wheelchair users must take a two-block detour, cross a traffic bridge, and then continue on about three blocks to the gardens entrance. Upon departing, you do not have to make the two-block detour to the station.

Kew Gardens is a fantastic and large botanic park. It is a royal palace and the grounds seemingly go on forever. There are many highlights here and there is no way we can see them all.

Today, we concentrate on the large, glass hothouses which contain tropical plants from around the world. The day we were there came in the middle of an exhibit of original works by glass sculptor Dale Chihuly. His works were extraordinary and were scattered around the grounds and mixed in with the plants in the greenhouses. Of particular interest were the large chandeliers hung in each of the greenhouses.

There is a nice cafeteria here where you can dine on pastas, sandwiches, fruit and wash them down with a glass of wine or a bottle of ale.

This is our last full day in London, tomorrow we move on. We have a dinner at the Rose, a local Chelsea pub, and call it a day.

...Stay tuned for Part 2 and the Emerald Isle.
Copyright 2009 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 13, 2014


If it's not quite a hurricane, it must be a tropical storm.

Watch the Video!

This week's cocktail is a one-off of that great New Orleans tradition.  Ours uses ingredients on hand but is still rum based. 

Here is the recipe...

INGREDIENTS (makes two drinks)
2 oz. light rum
1 oz. dark rum
1 oz. mango juice
2 oz. sweet and sour mix
splash of grenadine
2 oz. orange soda

Mix all ingredients, except for the orange soda, into a cocktail shaker half filled with ice. Strain over the rocks into two highball or pint glasses filled with ice. Top off each glass with the orange soda.



Friday, April 11, 2014


It's called highway 49 for a reason...this ribbon of asphalt connect most of the towns that grew up during California's Gold Rush and includes some of the most historic sites in the state.

It's old, dating back over 150 years but Ione, actually, is not a gold mining town. The city made its riches by making the bricks that other Gold Rush towns used to rebuild with after devastating fires. Now, it's fireworks, tourists, and juvenile offenders.  The Castle...a large, imposing building on the hill overlooking town was the old juvenile detention center. A more modern juvenile hall stands next door.

Pretty Sutter Creek has a working gold mine at the edge of town. 

One of the best steakhouses in the Motherlode is was here too...J and D's.

The county seat of Amador County is nearby Jackson. Gorgeous town but really knocked to the mat during the great recession of 2010...saw way too many vacant storefronts while we were there as well as a sad looking for sale banner on the historic National Hotel at the end of the street but a recent visit saw the National back in business and the local economy has really picked back up.

Wine is the new hot commodity in Amador County, just a few miles away from where the big Gold Rush started.  This little miner's cabin holds the tasting room for our favorite California winery, Story Winery.

There's also a great picnic area here overlooking hundreds of acres of vines...some dating back to the Gold Rush days...trailing off down the Consumnes River Canyon.

Perhaps the most famous of Motherlode towns is Angel's Camp, made famous by Mark Twain in his story  The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Like Jackson, it's a pretty quiet place these days but nearby Murphy's draws big crowds on the weekends as bikers and tourist clamor for tastes of wine from this new wine region.

Last is the most historic town on the California gold trail...by far. In fact, I'd wager to say that this is THE most important and historic site in the entire state.  Coloma is where John Sutter had his mill.  Being water powered, the mill run would sometimes clog up.  A couple of sticks of dynamite would clear it up and it'd just take some workmen to make sure the debris was cleared.

Mill foreman, James Marshall, was on that duty on January 24, 1848. As he was walking along the river inspecting for blast debris, he noticed something shiny in the water at this tiny, sandy beach.  It was gold and California would never, ever be the same.

Unfortunately for Marshall and his boss, Sutter, others would profit from the rush they started and they died broke.  Marshall is buried on top of a nearby hill where he had his cabin. This statue on top of his grave points to that spot on the river where he found the gold that forever changed the fortunes of the state.

Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

PHOTO ESSAY: Outtakes from the Gold Rush

Here are some photos that didn't make the cut on this week and last week's articles. Not because they're bad pics but just because they didn't fit the narrative for some reason.  Still, they give you some insight into other things that were going on during this trip.  Above, the Restful Nest B&B in Mariposa really has modern plumbing...this outhouse hides one of their water wells.

A Woody club joins us on the freeway on our way across the Grapevine.

This guy doesn't belong there...it's really a VW beetle made up to look like a Woody. Imposter!

Our state flower is starting to paint the hillsides.

Hummingbirds gather at the feeder at The Restful Nest.

The pond at Butterfly Creek Winery, just east of Mariposa.

Goldfinches on the thistle sock at The Restful Nest.

Graves in Hornitos.

Daffodils at The Restful Nest.

And, finally, I found this little plant while hiking near The Restful Nest. Lois told me what it was but I forgot. Anyone know?

Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick and Letty Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 7, 2014


Although the state is criss-crossed with interstates, freeways, superhighways and is home to more millions of Americans than any other state, once in awhile you can find a seldom traveled stretch of asphalt that is actually a time machine.

One such road exists starting at highway 140 in the foothill town of Cathey’s Valley, about 20 miles east of Merced, California.
Turning north on Hornitos Road will take you through some spectacular rolling hill country dotted with happy cows. Green in the winter and spring, golden in summer and fall.

Watch the Video!

After about nine miles, you’ll start to see mounds of rocks scattered about the creek off to the side.  Dug up around 150 years ago, these are tailings left by the original Gold Rush miners.  Following that creek, you’ll end up at the little town of Hornitos, which was settled by Mexicans who were kicked out of the nearby town of Quartzburg.
The joke is on them because Hornitos soon pulled much more riches out of the ground than their unwelcoming neighbors.
A collapsed shack sits a few feet from the sturdy jail.  The remains of a brick building stand next to the community hall. Across the street from that is an old brick saloon with sturdy iron doors and a cafĂ© that saw its last customer half a century ago.  Overlooking all of it is a tiny, white, Catholic church manning the watch over the town’s graveyard which features dirt packed so hard that the original inhabitants had to put their dead in above ground mounds that looked like the ovens the women used in baking.

Because of the appearance of the graves, the town was named after them using the Spanish word for “little ovens.”
You’ll come to understand why Hornitos is listed as a Gold Rush ghost town on many websites, books, and articles.  Although much rough and rowdy history has happened in and around the streets of this village, it’s not quite correct to call it a ghost town…yet.

The Ortiz family still opens the saloon on the town’s plaza. Come in and have a shot of tequila…the bartender would like it if you chose the Hornitos reposado over the Patron…and chat with him. There’s him and one customer as the three of us have our shots.
Manuela Ortiz is the legend who would open the bar when she felt like it and hold court with her shot of brandy. A living link to the town’s storied past, Manuela is now suffering the memory loss of advanced age and living in a home down the hill in Merced.
Her son now stands in her place, giving us the update on her condition and pouring our shots…without lemon or salt…as he tells us he appreciates it.
The saloon sits across the parking lot from the tiny U.S. Post office. That comprises 2/3 of the remaining businesses in town and the post office is on the verge of closing. A gift shop operates out of an old general store at the north end of town.
Over $8 million dollars worth of gold has been pulled out of the ground here. The population grew to 8, 10, or 12 thousand people depending on which source you consider reliable.  Down to 65 now, it does seem the spirits outnumber the living here.
Ruins are mixed in with the private residences and the few commercial buildings. Across from the Ortiz’s saloon…next to an out-of-place looking, very modern handicapped parking spot…sit the collapsed walls of a brick building.  Here, back before statehood, Domingo Ghiradelli opened a store.

He would not be here very long, moving on to San Francisco, but the little plot of land is still owned by the company he and his family founded…the Ghiradelli Chocolate Company.
In the plot next door, whatever building had stood is long gone but a mound in the dirt is covered with assorted boards and corrugated metal. The barrier is to keep people out of the tunnel inside that is a danger for collapsing.

In its rowdier past, the town was full of saloons. Beneath the saloons on the underground level were bordellos. So that the customers could arrive without being seen, tunnels were dug to connect them
A couple of doors north, another old saloon sits. Across the street, a tree grows out of the hole another collapsed brothel tunnel created.
There are two handicapped parking spaces in town. One is a new, state-of-the-art concrete creation with multiple ramps for access adjacent to the Stagg Hall, home of the town's annual enchilada festival each March. The other is across the street at the post office.  We're almost the only people here so we just park in a regular spot in front of the old cafe...I don't think they'll be getting any customers today to block our ramp.

We wander around town. Technically, it’s not too accessible with just a few feet of sidewalk, but the traffic is so light Tim can drive his wheelchair on the road without problem.
It’s a block or so to the north end of town where the gift shop sits. We wander in, buy some candy and beads, and check out the art work. I can believe that we were the only sale that day.

We drive up the hill to the graveyard. Someone at some time must have gotten access to some earth moving equipment because all the graves are now below ground.  The dirt is very hard, though.
There’s an admirable view fromup here high above the town. We spend a few minutes wandering the graves, seeing dates going back to the Gold Rush days along with some wooden markers whose inscriptions have long worn off in the weather here.

Going back down, we navigate through a flock of wild turkeys mingling with the ghosts in the down. Past the old school house on the outskirts of town, and then back towards the highway.
It would be wrong to call it a ghost town now but the town is hanging on the edge.

Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Cocktail Hour - Cincinnati Pub Crawl

Kicking off our Midwest Baseball Tour last year, we started with an impromtu pub crawl along the Ohio River.  The "Cincinnati" part of the title is a bit misleading, it's actually in Newport, Kentucky at the Levee District, just across the river from The Great American Ballpark, home of the Reds.

Watch the Video!

We started before the baseball game going on that night so we got a lot of the pre-game party flavor.  We didn't go to the game that night (our tickets were for the next day), so we stayed behind at a bar called Bulldogs, watching the game on TV.  That was a bit surreal, the actual game was a thousand feet away.  We could here it both from the stadium and on TV.

So here is the crawl.  We start off at a place called the Beer Sellar, which sits on a floating barge in the river that it shares with Hooters.  There's a large patio crowded with baseball fans getting ready for the game with their two-dollar Huddy Light specials.  They will soon depart for the game on a ferry that leaves right from the barge.

Next, it's over to a branch of Munich's famous Hofbrauhaus, just up the street, where we sample their delicious beers in about as authentic of a German beer garden you'll find in the states.  It's not quite up to Munich quality but darn good for over here.  We sample the hefeweizen, dunkel, and meibier.

Ending up the crawl, we're at Bulldog's where we try the Shafly wheat and rasberry ale from St. Louis and the house brand light beer, pretty good and a deal during the game at $2.50 for a 24 oz. mug.

We enjoyed them all, probably the Hofbrau brands the best.  Enjoy the video.

Copyright 2010

Friday, April 4, 2014


The Fishing Pond at the Restful Nest

It was the summer of 1999 when we first navigated these roads. According to the directions the innkeeper gave me, if I got to town on highway 140, I’ve gone too far but I found the Yaqui Gulch turnoff. When I got to the old highway, look for the brick water well house, Buckeye Road would start right next to it…don’t turn right, don’t turn left. Just sort of go cockeyed straight onto it. Past the three mailboxes on the left, slow down and look for Buckeye Creek Road and turn left…if you get to Ben Hur Road, you’ve gone way too far…

It is a challenge the first time you try to find the Restful Nest but once you do, you’ve found bed and breakfast paradise.  We’ve come here several times over the years to recharge, visit the area’s many sights and attractions, and…most of all…to visit with the owners, Jon and Lois Moroni, who have turned into friends.

Watch the Video!

It’s been too long between visits, however, as we haven’t been here since Tim went to college. Their lab mix, Casey…who’d fetch sticks long after the stars came out…has since died. Jon has gone through a bout of cancer, successfully thankfully, and Lois no longer smokes.

Still, it’s the same bed and breakfast we came to know and love.

With only three rooms (there’s actually four but Lois only rents three at the most) set on 11 acres, it’s a bit of heaven sitting five miles away from town with hiking trails, fishing pond, great stargazing, wild animal sightings, and a pool and spa.

It’s not technically accessible. The toilet is in a narrow space and the small shower is also too cramped for a chair to use but there is a smooth path to the room and, since we notified them ahead of time about the chair, Jon build a ramp so Tim’s wheelchair could ascend to the upper balcony and dining room.  (If you need a fully accessible room, you might try the Best Western or Comfort Inn in town)
We spend some time catching up with the Moroni’s after dinner and then head down to our room to rest up. There is a TV in the room but you’ll only get three channels here in these rural hills.
In town, we find a place to park uphill from the main street so it will be easy to roll down. We do a little window shopping  and souvenir hunting on the old sidewalks. Mariposa is an old Gold Rush town so access can be spotty. One end of the block is ramped but the other end is stairs so you’ll need to double back to get to the other side of the street.  Some of the shops in these old buildings do not have access but many do.

Mariposa was known for pulling a lot of gold out of the ground. Today, it’s not as touristy as other Gold Rush towns farther up highway 49 in the Motherlode but more of a real town. People here work regular jobs and there’s a sense of community here.  Kids belong to 4H or the FFA and the fairgrounds are busy with local celebrations and festivals…we like to show up on Labor Day weekend for the county fair.

John C. Fremont, the soldier and explorer, called Mariposa home. At the end of the sidewalk, Bett’s Silver Coin restaurant sits in the adobe building he constructed…the only three story adobe building in the Motherlode.

At the north end of town, next to the Burger King, is the Mariposa Museum and History Center with its mining stamp mills and historical dioramas of local history.

At the south end of town, in the parking lot of the fairgrounds, is the California Mining and Mineral Museum.  With a recreated mine tunnel and hundreds of examples of gems, it’s a real treasure to see. The star of the show here is the largest intact gold nugget ever found in the state, a real whopper at 13.8 pounds.
Both museums charge $4 for admission.

Jon and Lois serve a huge breakfast to guests everyday and we don’t get out to eat too much in Mariposa but there are a number of good places to eat when the hunger does eventually strike. Our favorites are the Nachos at Castillo’s and the pizza just a few doors down at the Pizza Factory.

Mariposa is part of the Sierra Foothills AVA and has a few up and coming wineries in the area.  While Silver Fox is open by appointment only and Chappel Winery has a storefront downtown, you can visit the other two wineries…Casto and Butterfly Creek…for tastings.  If you like friendly dogs, be sure to visit Butterfly Creek, located on Triangle Road on the way to Yosemite, just east of town.

All Outdoors California Whitewater Rafting can take you on 1 or 2 day trips down the Merced River, which is just a few miles north of town.  Yosemite is 35 miles to the east and one of the best day trips you will ever do.

Old gold towns abound in the area and are fun to explore. For a more hands-on experience, you can pan for gold at the mining museum or at Paystreak on highway 140 just west of town.  Many shops in the area also sell pieces of gold mined in the area…one mine is still operating commercially.

Not as well known as the other Gold Rush towns farther up highway 49, Mariposa will give you that Gold Rush feeling without being overwhelmed by tourists. Give it a try next time you’re headed towards Yosemite…we think you’ll end up in love with it like we are.

Copyright 2012 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved